The first glimpse of the Hotel Endsleigh is not of the magnificent hotel, but of the gardens. Between the blooms that flank the driveway, snippets of the resplendent 108 acres surrounding the hotel are visible, and the unmistakable smell of the countryside permeates the car. Slowly does it on this road, not just because you will want to savour the view, but because going over the prescribed 10mph might be fatal for one of the pheasants that roam the grounds freely. Does this sound ridiculously, hyperbolically bucolic? Get used to it – nowhere does Britishness better than the Endsleigh.
Situated on the Devon/Cornwall border, the first stone of Endsleigh was laid in 1810 by the sixth Duke of Bedford’s second wife, Giorgiana, and her eldest three stepsons. The land had landed in the lap of the Duke after the dissolution of monasteries for ‘services rendered’ to the crown. On taking a second wife, the Duke decided to build Endsleigh to fuse two of their interests on the one spot; a pastoral idyll on her part and fishing haven on his.
Sir Humphrey Repton was tasked with creating the gardens and fell in love with the land, even producing one of his red books filled with his visions for the property. Alas, it was not to be – Jeffry Wyatt (who was later knighted for remodeling Windsor Castle), was entrusted with design, though a facsimile copy of Repton’s red book is on display at the Endsleigh for the curious.
When the Russell family sold Endsleigh in 1953 due to crippling death duties and a desire to hold onto the family seat, Woburn Abbey, it fell into a state of disrepair. Having been bought by an extended group of the Duke’s friends who had formed the Fishing Club to continue to enjoy the grounds, it was only on receiving lottery funding that some repairs could be made on the property (and much-needed gardening done). In 2004, Olga Polizzi set her heart on Endsleigh and was desperate to restore it to its former glory in the form of a hotel.
This new chapter for the Endsleigh has remarkably tarnished none of the refinement the Duke’s guests might have enjoyed. In fact, my stay was marked with the sense of being a trusted, pampered friend, rather than fussed over client, precisely as a prized guest of the Duke’s might have been. Throughout my visit I noticed the hallmarks of courtesy around the hotel and grounds: bowls of water for dogs are dotted around; Wellington boots and anoraks are available in a variety of sizes to borrow; books – and real books you’d read, not the usual stuffy tomes to fill a bookshelf – are liberally scattered, and places to sit are to be found here, there and everywhere. The staff also contribute to this home away from home-liness of the Endsleigh – they are well-versed on the merits of the hotel (ask for Will, who will scintillate you with tales of the Duke’s caprice), and aim to provide the sort of seamless, non-stuffy service that is such a rarity.
If my thus far glowing report suggests the Polizzis did a good job, I am underselling the Endsleigh. Though I may sound gushing, it is hard to recall the hotel dispassionately. The Polizzis have even managed the one requisite a true Anglophile cannot help but delight in – eccentricity, some of which lies in the details left over by the Russells and restored by the Polizzis. There is a terrace floor made entirely from sheep’s knuckles , a grade 1 listed house covered in shells, an Edwardian fernery, a hodgepodge of trees on the horizon the Duke had planted just for the pleasure of their variety and a tree that was once the largest in the UK. These eccentricities also extend to the interior, where details again betray the previous tenants’ taste. The wallpaper in my room (room 8, for of course all the Endsleigh’s rooms boast different décor), was around 150 years old and featured luscious-coloured peacocks and pheasants.
While on the rooms, I ought to mention that they too have been designed with a sense of complicity in your relaxation. The balcony overlooking the River Tamar, armchair and chaise longue all invited rest, while the ubiquitous books found were all of different genres. I breezed through a Wodehouse whiling away the afternoon before heading to tea which, at the Endsleigh, is as serious as tea ought to be – that is, an impressive spread without any further ado. After a three course dinner, the nightly fire provided yet more opportunity to unwind with a glass of wine. Oh, and you needn’t concern yourself about closing times and what not – an honesty bar exemplifying the Endsleigh approach is available all night.
Should you be wondering what there is to do at the Endsleigh then you are woefully misguided. It isn’t that activities are hard to come by – if you’re not out of puff by the time you’ve explored the grounds you can fish, play ping pong, learn archery or travel to a nearby attraction (Cotehele Medieval Manor, Lyndford Gorge and Buckland Abbey can all be reached in a short drive). But as I said, this is not a place you come to run hither and thither like an agitated wasp. The Endsleigh is made for the moments of contemplation and relaxation to a backdrop of some jolly good scenery.